Celtics show balance in the face of elimination, extend streak against Heat

Celtics show balance in the face of elimination, extend streak against Heat

Tim BontempsESPNMay 24, 2023, 12:45 a.m. ET5 minute read

Jayson Tatum drops 34 points as Celtics Ice Heat win Game 4

The Celtics earn their first win of the series thanks in large part to Jayson Tatum’s 34 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

MIAMI — In the Tuesday morning shootout before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Marcus Smart had a message for the Miami Heat:

“Don’t let us have one,” Smart said. “Just don’t let us have one.”

It was quite a statement to make, considering the Celtics entered Game 4 down a 3-0 hole in this best-of-7 series – a deficit that 150 teams have faced in the history of the NBA and none of them made it. recover from.

But, hours later, Smart and the Celtics lived up to their end of the bargain, claiming a 116-99 victory over Miami, sending that series back to Boston for Game 5 on Thursday with the Celtics now three more wins away from history.

“Now we just have to win another one,” Smart said after finishing with 11 points and six assists in 35 minutes. “That’s all that matters. We’re taking it one game at a time. We understand the odds are stacked against us, but we’re a team that believes in us no matter what, and we just have to keep going, and whatever. what matters is the next game.”

Boston found itself in a 3-0 hole heading into Game 4 because it repeatedly failed to survive adverse situations. The Celtics crumbled in the stretch in Games 1 and 2, then were ejected from Kaseya Center in Game 3.

Game 4, however, was an entirely different story. Boston was down nine points late in the first quarter after a 3-pointer from Caleb Martin. The Celtics again dropped nine points early in the third quarter after a Max Strus 3-pointer 90 seconds into the second period. And then, after missing their first four shots and committing three fouls in the first 2:19 of the fourth quarter, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla called a quick timeout with the Celtics leading 88-83 and the game faltering on the knife edge.

But in each of those situations, Boston responded. The Celtics went on a 17-5 run after Martin’s hat-trick to take the lead early in the second quarter. Boston went on an 18-0 run over four minutes into the third after the 3-point Strus. And, after that Mazzulla timeout early in the fourth, Boston got a field goal from Jayson Tatum on the play that followed it — Tatum’s first field goal in the fourth quarter of the series — to kick off a 12-0 run. who put the game aside for good.

“I think that balance, the trust in each other, the connectedness, I think, throughout a game, no matter how the game was going, those things never diminished,” Mazzulla said. “Look, when the stakes are really high and you’re trying to achieve what we’re trying to achieve, it’s easy to lose those things because the guys play as hard as they can.

“I just thought no matter the outcome, the guys stick together.”

Part of the reason Boston was able to stay together, according to Jaylen Brown, was due to the conversations the team had as a group together during the day Monday following a demoralizing loss in the game. 3 to send the Celtics to the brink of elimination. .

“I just got together, talked about it,” Brown said. “And as often when you get to that 3-0 point you see the dressing rooms and the teams start to go the other way. We want to make sure we stick together. We wanted to make sure we look at each other. others in the eye and came out today and gave our best, and I’m proud of our group for doing that because you see teams with their backs to the wall and you see them falling apart.

“You haven’t seen it tonight. You’ve seen us come together, play defense, make good plays, and I feel like that says a lot about our character, especially in a game where everything is game and everything went wrong in the last two games.”

It also didn’t hurt that the Celtics – and, in particular, Tatum – knocked down a few shots. Boston had entered that game shooting 31 for 106 (29.2%) from 3-point range in the first three games, compared to Miami’s 44 for 92 (47.8%).

“I still think we can shoot the ball a lot better,” said Brown, who had 16 points despite struggling again from deep to go 1-for-5 from behind the arc. “I think I had some good shots that didn’t come through, but tomorrow the next game is a new game. I feel like if we keep building confidence, if we keep seeing the ball go through the net, I think we’re going to feel good about ourselves.”

Tatum, meanwhile, went 11 for 15 from the field in the second half, scoring 25 points and committing just one turnover after picking up eight points and four turnovers in the first half.

Tatum had 14 of Boston’s 38 points in the third, helping the Celtics beat the Heat 38-23 in frame to turn what had been a six-point halftime deficit into a 9-point lead. He then came back into the game after that timeout early in the fourth quarter and kicked a game-winning Boston run with an elbow jumper.

“They were playing in the zone, and frankly, we kind of struggled with the zone the first two games,” Tatum said of Miami’s defense early in the fourth quarter, when the Heat held the Celtics scoreless for more than two minutes with Tatum on the bench. “So that made us stagnate. So when I came back, he just drew a play to get movement, find free space, and then make the right play.”

Now, as that series returns to Boston, the Celtics have at least taken the first step toward making history.

The next one will require another 48 minutes like this on Thursday in Boston.

“We want to come back to Miami,” Brown said.

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